Where are you from?
When we were traveling in Greece during the sabbatical, people would ask us: Where are you from? We would start by saying we were from America. If they were with us so far, we would get more specific and name our state. We found out very quickly who were basketball fans. Greeks are very proud to have their own Giannis Antetokounmpo playing in the NBA. More often though, a look of befuddlement would come over their faces and we would have to add, “Indiana is a state in the middle of the United States.”
Often Where are you from? was followed by Why are you here? That’s when I probably looked befuddled. Because it’s Greece! I wanted to cry. But one of the girls or I would say: Because there is so much to see here. Or We are hiking.
Now and then, someone would push for a deeper answer. But a minister’s sabbatical is a strange enough concept to most Americans. There were a lot of cultural differences to navigate in Greece since the reality of women ministers hasn’t arrived in the Greek Orthodox church.
Where are you from? and Why are you here?
Those are foundational questions about our origins and our purpose. Our answers tell us about our identity and our reasons for being.
Our reading from Genesis is an origin story. Genesis is not history or science as we understand those disciplines today. The first chapter of Genesis is poetry, hymn, doxology, myth. It doesn’t deny science or history. It tells a deep truth those disciplines cannot contain. The Genesis story invites us to acknowledge who we truly are, where we are from and what our real purpose is.
We come from a God who sees.
Seven times in the creation narrative, God pauses to reflect on what God has made. Before the work is anywhere near done, God, steps back to behold all that is taking shape. God lingers over every separation and creation, each star, each light, every stream, every wing, fin and claw, each human creation. God is not in a hurry. God observes. God notices. We come from a God who pays attention.
We come from a good world.
Before there was evil, there was goodness. Something in our culture – even our religion and theologies – drives us to notice what is wrong with the world, almost forgetting that the beginning of our holy scripture is brimming with goodness and blessing.
We come from a relationship.
God speaks of the Divine Being in the plural. Let us make…in our own image. God seems to be in relationship within Godself. Even so, it was not enough for God. God created a whole universe, populated it with creeping things, flying beings, swimming creatures, waddling, leaping, climbing critters and God created humankind. God created human beings who were not only in relationship to each other but directed to be in relationship with all those creatures, critters and growing, glowing things that God had made.
We come from the image of God.
This story insists that God didn’t make human beings to be just another part of the creation. God didn’t create us and sign a divine signature on us. We are in some profound and wondrous way the very image of God – the likeness of the God, who sees, separates, creates goodness, blesses and is in relationship for goodness sake.
We may live in Indiana, in the middle of America, but according to Genesis, our origins are in an even better place. So, when someone – perhaps ourselves – asks Why are you here? we need to remember the story of Genesis.
We are here to see.
To look at what is – the darkness and the light, the chaos and the form, the swirling galaxies and the minute virus, the dry land, and the soaked coastlines. We are here to see – without turning away –the beauty of a baby’s first smile and the grief of those whose homes are swept away by floods, winds, earthquakes or war. We are to notice – not just ourselves – but what is beyond ourselves and those who are here with us in God’s world. We are not here to make quick assessments, rash judgments, or rush onto the next event. We are here to patiently attend to who and what is around us.
We are here to declare the world good.
What does it mean to declare the world good even though we see and experience violence, corruption, injustice, terror, and destruction? It means to reject the assumption that comes from the left and right, from the back of our minds and the top of our societal structures that there is something inherently wrong with the world and we must accept that reality even if we try to destroy it.
To declare the world good is to claim that the world is fundamentally good and then to live, so that is true. It is to see what is right even when it is not at first visible so that that goodness can be reclaimed. It is to notice order and then restore it, to cherish and then cultivate beauty, to wonder at and then nurture growth. To declare the world good is to assert that people – all people – begin as good creations of God.
We are here to be in relationship.
We are here to be in relationship with one another, with the creatures of creation, with creation itself. We are to be in relationship with a relating God. In Genesis 1, God is as universal in this calling to relationship, as the Son of God, Jesus will be. We are not created to pick and choose these things, or these people are important to me, but those aren’t. No one and nothing is ruled out of the blessing of relationship. The divine relationships create new life that continues to expand. We are here to be in divinely inspired relationships that bless others into life.
We are here because we are the image of God.
Our purpose is to be the likeness of God. We are charged with living into the story of a good God who creates goodness. We do that – as God does – in great and small ways. By creating grand ideas that explode with possibility and by creating small gestures that are alive with hope. We live into God’s image when we care for the universe and are careful of those who share our space. We are the likeness of God when we speak words that bless and when seeing chaos we do the labor of creating goodness. For those who do not know the story of their origins, we may be the only way they find their true identity.
It doesn’t matter whether we are from the middle of America, Athens or an island, from the coasts or Kenya or Malawi. According to Genesis, we all share the same origins. We come from a good God, who made a good world and good people, including us. We know why we are here. To be the image of God, seeing what is, declaring the world good and living in relationships that create blessing in God’s world.